Man In An Orange Shirt was originally broadcast as part of BBC Two’s Gay Britannia season, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, when homosexuality was decriminalised. The two-part drama follows two love stories spanning two generations and highlights the social and emotional challenges gay men face in both periods.
The first part begins in the repressive 1940s as World War Two veterans Michael (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Thomas (James McArdle) discover they have mutual feelings for one another. The two men embark upon a passionate yet doomed love affair. It is a time where homosexuality is illegal and expressing their true feelings means facing harsh consequences.
There is natural chemistry between Michael and Thomas, as a viewer you want to fight the battle against the world with them, you want them to defy all odds and be together. Although it is all in vain as Thomas is imprisoned just for being gay, and Michael marries his childhood friend Flora (Joanna Vanderham). It is not long before Flora unwittingly discovers her husband’s gay affair and gives him an ultimatum.
Vanderham is great as the antagonist and plays her character wonderfully, portraying the views of the majority in that day. Michael’s loyalty to her and their young son means he chooses conformity over his heart’s desire, tearing him apart from Thomas forever.
The second part follows Michael’s grandson Adam (Julian Morris) in modern day. Adam struggles to accept his sexuality, bouncing from one casual encounter to another. He tries to hide the fact that he’s gay and even feels disgusted and ashamed after any sexual encounter with another man, scrubbing himself violently in the shower after.
Man In An Orange Shirt highlights and raises awareness of the very real struggles gay men faced in the 1940s and even now still, in modern day. Although we may have come a long way since the era Michael and Thomas’ romance takes place, there is still a long way to go. Many in the audience may be able to relate to Adam’s character. Despite being free to express our sexuality unlike generations before us, there are still personal battles when it comes to dealing with sexuality as Adam’s character shows.
Adam also feels like he has to hide who he really is from his unaccepting grandmother, a now elderly Flora (Vanessa Redgrave) who still has the same views towards homosexuality. When Adam eventually falls for someone he has no choice but to reveal his sexuality to his grandmother which does not end well.
Man In An Orange Shirt may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I would strongly encourage any of those who may not ordinarily watch a drama like this, to watch it. It has a very interesting and unique storyline and is overall a very moving drama consisting of two passionate love stories.
In the end we see Flora begin to accept that her grandson is gay and in fact does not want to come in the of way his relationship and have history repeat itself. There is not much to criticise in all honesty, Man In An Orange Shirt has a great narrative that is well paced, with believable acting and well-cast characters.
Man In An Orange Shirt is available now on DVD courtesy of Network Distributing
Dir: Michael Samuels
Prd: Lisa Osborne
Scr: Patrick Gale
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Joanna Vanderham, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, James McArdle, Julian Morris.